Yesterday I started a theater workshop at Esteli´s Municipal Library. I had passed invitations out to children and parents on the street, and posted up a few signs around the city.
However, when you pass people in the street here, they say “Adios,”(goodbye!). And that’s the encounter. There is no hello. What? I just started pushing the invitation into their hands. “Adios! Come to my workshop! Adios!” A few people did actually stop, often because they were suspicious of the bizarre looking gringa following children and handing them invitations. “I was an actress in New York. I want to do a theater workshop at the library. Everyone is invited.”
“I don´t understand.” I would explain again, smiling into the parents narrowed eyes.
“Yes gringa, but why?”
I throttled through a few paragraphs about the richness of Nicaraguan history and culture and how much I have to learn from doing this project with the kids. It seems that, despite Nicaraguans (and especially Estelians) enthusiasm for community-building volunteer work, it is hard for some people to wrap their minds around a gringa coming to Nicaragua to do something good for, not something bad to, the people. Who can blame them?
I explained it as if the theater project was all for my own benefit. Which it is, in part.
My biggest fear was that no one would come. Although at least no one called me jankee.
I passed out roughly 100 invitations and had about twenty kids, but I was pleased with the turnout on the first day. The “taller”(workshop) runs from 9-11 am and then from 2-4 pm since school is half a day, and some students go in the morning and others in the evening. Most of the students who came in the morning came again in the afternoon (turns out they had skipped class that morning, tsk tsk).
The activity on the first day was not ostensibly part of a theater program. I brought dream catcher making kits, and had each of the participants make one and then write (or draw) about their dreams for their own futures, the future of their community, and the future of Nicaragua. It helped that I have a dream catcher tattooed on my back, since that apparently meant that they must be pretty powerful.
It was striking what the kids came up with. “I want to save the environment and beautiful Nicaragua´s natural resources,” one seven-year-old explained. “I want to be a doctor because so many people in Nicaragua are sick and no one helps them,” wrote another. “Well I want to be a teacher so poor people can be doctors if they want,” or “I´m going to be a teacher because learning makes people happy.” One six-year-old said, “I want to be a true Sandinista President.” Whoaaa. He wasn´t even old enough to write that down. The taller was for kids between four and eleven years old.
The purpose of this project was to gain an idea of the issues that are important to the children of Esteli. Their articulation of their hopes and dreams (which is also informative about their struggles and fears) has put us on the track to choose or write a play that deals with these dreams and struggles. Furthermore, it helped me establish rapport with them in a calm setting (ok it wasn´t really that calm) before we jump into theater games, which are hard to do among strangers since you really have to put yourself out there and be pretty silly sometimes.
Above all, the lesson we got through yesterday was that everyone is free to express themselves in the way they want to at this workshop, and there are no wrong answers here. Some of the children had difficulty making the dream catchers, and they were thrilled when I told them they weren´t wrong, they were creative, which is the most valuable thing they could bring to a theater workshop.
I was thrilled when I heard them explaining to each other that they had different dream catchers because they all had different, unique dreams for the future. And the six year-old who wants to be a true Sandinista President announced more than a few times that he was creative. I think he should run on that platform. Nicaragua thrives on creative grassroots approaches to strengthen the national community and quality of life. A Nicaraguan politician who actually adopted creative efforts him or herself, instead of “teaming up” with international financial institutions could, perhaps, carry out a real, unarmed, true Sandinista revolution.